About 2,500 members at the militant core of the striking Writers Guild of America have signed an eight-page ad to be published in trade papers today and Thursday that castigates movie and TV producers for attempting to lure writers away from the union.
The strike, in its third month, has already delayed the fall TV season, forced the layoff of about 1,800 non-guild employees and cost the entertainment industry more than $15 million.
"We've stopped counting (dollar losses)," Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers spokesman Herb Steinberg said Tuesday. "The damage now is very, very heavy, and there's no point in aggravating it."
Ad Criticizes Letter
The anti-"union busting" ad condemns producers alliance President J. Nicholas Counter III for suggesting in a letter to its member production companies three weeks ago that guild members who return to work could do so--with impunity--simply by resigning from the union.
Steinberg said the alliance's letter "responded to the requests from the companies that it represents so that they (the companies) could answer requests from writers accurately. We did not suggest that anyone resign from the WGA."
Writers Guild of America officials maintain that none of the guild's 9,000 members have resigned since the strike began March 7.
"There's no question that people are having trouble with the strike, but there's no major movement (to leave the guild) or anything like that," said guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden.
Nevertheless, it has been widely rumored that at least some Writers Guild of America members may have gone back to their typewriters. According to some union sources, members who write for the daily TV soap operas have given guild negotiators a deadline "that's coming up soon" after which they will return to work.
Further, members of a faction within the guild that calls itself the Writers Coalition refused to sign the ad, citing it as futile an action as the alliance's letter that prompted it.
The producers' letter "met with a stone wall," said a Writers Coalition leader who asked not to be named. "Consequently, we're not sure what the intent of the ad is. Actions speak louder than words. We do not think the trades are necessarily an appropriate vehicle for negotiating a collective bargaining agreement."
'Negotiate in Good Faith'
The ad copy over the 2,500 signatures reads: "We, the undersigned members of the WGA, condemn your April 28th memo attempting to incite us to resign from our guild. . . . There's only one way to get us back to work. Negotiate in good faith a deal that respects our demands."
According to Rhoden, the ad signatures were chiefly solicited from guild members who have shown up for picket line duty. Of the guild's 9,000 members nationwide, most have had limited film and TV sales or are on the guild's inactive list and do not regularly write for TV and film. Less than half the members actually voted on the alliance's March 6 contract offer.
"More people signed the ad than voted for the strike," Rhoden said. She said 2,335 members voted to reject the March 6 contract offer and 2,317 voted to strike.
According to Steinberg, the producers alliance's records indicate that about 4,300 guild members were listed as contributors to the guild's health and welfare fund during the past 18 months, indicating that less than half the guild members are actual working writers.
"A lot of them aren't writers. They pay their $100 a year dues and get invitations to screenings," Steinberg said.
According to Rhoden, about 300 members contributed between $4 and $1,000 apiece to pay the $15,000 bill for the ads that are to be published in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.
The three stalemated issues that brought on the strike revolve around creative control of scripts, foreign residuals and a controversial formula for deciding upon residual payments for one-hour dramatic television programs.